More than 100 participants and spectators filled the Shuman Center Saturday for the 2009 Liberty Taekwondo Championships. Competitors from 5 years old to those in their mid-thirties displayed their forms and fighting skills, competing for the honor of the Dojo’s Masters.
The home team, Liberty Sports Taekwondo Center, and their grand master Rafael Medina are hosting tournament and have welcomed teams from as near as Savannah and as far away as Boca Raton, Fla."This is my third time and I’m here to support grand master (Rafael) Medina. He is a great friend, mentor and hero," Juan Catalan said.
Catalan is a fourth degree black belt who made the eight-hour trek from Boca Raton to bring his six-person team from the Dojo, Team Taekwondo Athletic Center.
He said he’s been involved with taekwondo off and on for 25 years and gave Medina credit for getting him back into the sport.
"My dad moved to Georgia years ago and my younger brother came in contact with master Medina," he said. "During that time, I was going through a lot of political things happening in New Jersey within the taekwondo movement and I quit training. He re-opened the doors for me once again, and because of him I was able to establish my school in Boca Raton."
Catalan said his six team members were in various learning stages and all were fun to watch compete. He said he does have a protégé he is especially proud of.
"His name is Samuel Bonafante and he is 13 and a green belt," Catalan said. "He is one gifted young man and I expect many good things from him."
Els Sutton, president of the Sports Taekwondo Center Booster Club, said the local booster club was responsible for organizing the tournament on behalf of Medina.
She said the turnout is about what she expected, given the current state of the economy.
"We sent out 93 invitations and then followed up with phone calls," she said. "What we heard a lot was not this year but definitely next year."
The event has 10 teams fewer than last year, but Sutton said there appeared to be more spectators.
"I must say, the bleachers are as full as last year or more. So, I think there is more interest in watching it than last year," she said. "And that I find is very good news for the local community. They know this event is here and it will be here every year."
Sutton said they have a goal of hosting teams from as far north as North Carolina to as far west as Alabama.
"That is probably the region we can service and it’s a fairly realistic goal," she said. "You have to have a goal to work towards and I think that is a realistic goal."
Team Savannah Taekwondo Academy coach and 28-year master Jennifer Matsuoka said she brought 19 competitors to the meet this year. For many, it’s their first competition.
"We have a good reputation for taking home a lot of gold medals," she said.
The Courier will bring you the results of the tournament once they become available.